A few days ago, I had my world rocked. Before bed, we asked my son how school was going and his response broke me. It broke me on levels I never even knew existed. He began to fight the tears as the words escaped his mouth, “Everyone hates me”. Immediately, my heart escaped me. I looked at the 10-year-old by across from me, tears turning into sobs, sobs turning into hyperventilation. He continued on, “They tell me I’m useless. I’m useless”. This is when I felt my pain turn into anger and I looked deep into his eyes and told him, “You are not useless. I mean that more than anything I will ever say to you. You are not useless”. Despite my telling him this, listening to his sobs for what seemed like an eternity kept me awake much of the night.

Nothing he has ever told me has had that effect on me. Whatever the challenge, we could face it and we would face it together. But I could not face this challenge with him. I could not take the pain away from him. All I could do was listen and say the words any parent worth their salt would say to their child, but meaning it with every part of who I am. I wondered if he knew that? Or if he thought to himself I had to say that?

Going into counseling, you read the stats. You read about suicide being the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, become acutely aware that for every one suicide there are approximately 25 attempts. More specifically, you know that males are more likely to commit suicide and make use of the most lethal means. You know that almost 50% of suicides are a result of firearm use- a quick pull of a trigger and then nothing. Knowing all this did not put me at ease.

I worry about my son. I worry about what is being said to him and the effect those words have. I worry that he will keep it inside of him because he is reaching the age where he does not talk to us about everything. I worry he will believe what he is being told by people that in 12 years or less will not matter. Most of all, I worry my love may not be enough to keep him from feeling bad about himself or worse.

Maybe you are reading this and imagining to yourself that I am being dramatic or overprotective. Maybe you feel as if it is the parents like me that are raising kids to need safe spaces in life. I hope you are right on both accounts. I hope I am being overprotective of my son because even though I cannot fully protect him from this, I can try to convince him that I will always be his protector. I will stop at nothing to do everything I can for him to see in himself what I see. I also hope that he not only believes in safe spaces, but creates them for himself and others.

I don’t have the answers for this problem. I don’t have some magic lamp that a genie can come popping out of to grant my wishes. All I have are my words, love, and the hope it is enough.

So, I missed coming out day. I know, I am a terrible lesbian. But I had an experience recently that reminded me of what coming out really is and what it is not. The philosophical question of what it means to be out. Is anyone ever really out of the closet, or is it all an illusion of the mind? Something we say but in the same day may have to do again?

Not too long ago I visited a friend and for the first time formally met her mother. Earlier in the day, my friend and I went to a consignment looking for deals and her mother was interested in what all we got. Well, I didn’t get much- only some yarn for my partner. Well, when I brought up my purchase it was quite vague- I just said I had bought the yarn which led to the question about my crafts. Well, let me just lay it out for you- I don’t craft. I am not the one to knit, crochet, or quilt. That is all my partner. When her mother asked me this though, I felt that familiar tightness in my throat and silence.

I have been with the same woman since 2009. That’s right, 8 years. Good times, bad times, scary times, and everything in between. Yet, despite this I still sometimes choke on those two words: “My girlfriend”. I feel them rise up within my throat and then stop short before rolling off my tongue. My brain fills with endless questions, all centering around: “What will they say?” followed by, “Then what will I say?”

The prospect is intimidating and exhausting. I do not feel that it is shame that intimidates me, though it is fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of having to answer questions to someone that you don’t really know, but also fearing that should you want to get to know them you will have to say it eventually. But what if they reject you because they assume all you will talk about is your “Gayness”? In my particular situation, in that moment, I was afraid of making a bad impression.

I cared. I cared about what the woman across from me thought even though I shouldn’t have. I cared that she would think less of me for love even though the kind look in her eyes and genuine interest she showed contradicted my doubt. Before I could utter the familiar lie, “My friend crochets/knits/quilts” my friend confidently said, “Her partner does amazing projects”. The weight those words lifted from my chest was immeasurable. One less time I had to “come out”.

I write all of this because that situation brought to my attention again how often members of the LGBTQIAA have to come out. It is not just once, telling their parents. Or twice, telling their friends. Not even three times, telling extended family. No. It is every time you introduce your family to someone. It is living in a town where you desperately want to share details of your life that should not be private but not knowing who you can tell and who you cannot.

This isn’t something confined to small towns and rural areas. Sure, the reaction may differ and the feelings of the person that is doing the telling. However, there is one fact that remains: coming out never stops. From the first time there is never a last time, and the effect that may have on you or someone you know may be one of liberation or one of fear or anxiety.

Yet, there are things that can be done that may make it easier on someone you care about that is a member of the LGBTQIAA community. Be proud of them. You don’t have to agree with them to love them, don’t give them hushing looks when they seem as if they want to share. Encourage them to be who they are and offer them support and acceptance. Realize that sometimes it takes more than personal strength to carry those words within them. Let them know what you would do to protect and support them.

In the event you feel alone, know that there are resources out there for you. 1-888-843-4564 is the national LGBT hotline. 1-866-488-7386 is the Trevor Lifeline. If you are a parent look for local PFLAG organizations, talk to your child, and most of all share with them your love and respect.

#MeToo. Chances are over the last couple of days you have seen your friends and/or family posting this hashtag. You have also possibly uncovered the meaning behind it by now. For me, I saw it several times so I had to look it up due to my nosey nature. What I saw broke my heart. So many people I know and love have experienced sexual assault. Not just been affected by it. As humans, we are affected by many things we do not directly experience. No. They had experienced the violation of nonconsent in one form or another.

Tarana Burke is the unsung hero behind a hashtag that has fueled a firestorm of conversation that is long overdue. According to RAINN, 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Take a moment to let that statistic break through your skin and into your mind. Then, allow it to move from your mind and into your soul where it lights a flame within you.

We cannot continue to live in a society that fancies itself blaming victims along with perpetrators. Too long we have allowed ourselves to ask the question when a woman accuses a man of sexual misconduct: “Well, what was she wearing”, “Was she drinking”, “Why was she alone?” All of these questions lead back to one statement that is subconsciously being stated: “She should have known better because of course he couldn’t help himself.”

When I look at all of those hashtags on my social media page, I find myself wondering how many of those hashtags actually reported the incident. Then I wonder, how many were taken seriously or justice was rendered? How many could not make their fingers press the buttons, but felt that sink in their stomach and whispered to themselves, “Me too…” Something that soberly reminds us that according to MCASA, only 15.8-35% of assaults are actually reported.

What is equally disturbing is the amount of men out there who will not take part in this. The men who feel as if their victimization is emasculating in some way. Reflecting on the many things I have heard from others on the subject of male sexual assault. You see the comments when a teacher victimizes a student, “Who would complain!?” or “That’s every guys fantasy.” Worse still are the ignorant comments that believe men cannot be assaulted. The ignorance surrounding the response to an assault as consent when it is an anatomical reaction.

 

We have to do better. We have to start placing the blame where it belongs and that is not on the shoulders of survivors. It is not creating standards of what it should look like to be a victim. It is realizing that when we question the validity of sexual assault by gender, sex, clothes, alcohol, or anything else we take the focus away from the perpetrator and become perpetrators ourselves. We victimize the victim all over again.

Hopefully you are still with me because I am now talking to you #MeToo.

  1. You did nothing wrong.
  2. You did not ask for what was taken from you.
  3. You have nothing to be ashamed of because shame should be reserved for those who do wrong- Refer back to number 1.
  4. You are here which means you are strong.
  5. I hear you, even if I cannot see you, touch you, or speak your name.
  6. No matter if you put #MeToo on your social media, or simply held it in your mind and heart- You are brave.

As a society, do not let this conversation die with a trending hashtag. Keep the conversation going. It is time to stop sharing “How to avoid sexual assault” and start sharing, “How to not engage in rape culture”.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault and you feel the need to speak to someone privately, you can call 1-800-656-4673 anytime day or night. You do not have to share openly to be validated. I am here right now validating you. You are important and deserve to be heard.

Let’s talk about something that doesn’t seem to get much play: anxiety, OCD, panic disorder and medication interactions. I have been MIA for a bit and this post relates to that entirely. On August 20th I was diagnosed with acute bronchitis. No big deal, just a little chest cold. However, my spouse is immunocompromised so my little cold could be big, so what did I do? Went to the doctor first thing that morning, got a steroid shot and antibiotic, and went on my merry way. Over the next three days I progressively felt more and more fatigued and sluggish. Day three I went back to the doctor and told him my symptoms. Solution? “You’re healthy, I don’t see why we can’t give you another steroid shot.” That, my friends, is when the trouble started.

For three weeks, I felt terribly anxious. The first week I cried every single day. I felt something was terribly wrong with me, I was filled with panic and dread. Every time I slept, I woke up in a panic. It did not matter if I was sleeping at night or trying to take a nap from the exhaustion from being so wound up. After a week, I went back to the doctor and had a full blood panel done. Nothing. My blood work was perfect other than a slight vitamin D deficiency.

The steroid shots were exacerbating my mental illness. The doctor told me this was normal for some people and that it would stop within 8-10 days when the steroid worked its way out of my system. I was no longer physically ill but the war raging within my own mind was as strong as it was the first time I set foot in my therapist’s office. I had my tools though. I had my mindfulness techniques, yoga, meditation, medication for the thoughts. Every tool in my toolbox I used and still my mind raged against me.

Then, I did a little research and found that many people had the same reaction I was having. Many people said their doctor was resistant to admit the steroids were capable of doing this to them. I was lucky, my doctor was honest with me about what was happening and apologetic that it was happening. It wasn’t his fault. He couldn’t have known. It is my body and even I didn’t know. Still, I was amazed at how many people looked up the same thing I did about being anxious following a steroid shot. Men and women, both were present on forum after forum. Out of work due to their symptoms, unable to function normally in the world their mind had abandoned in favor of one filled with paranoia and dread.

Some of these people had been going through this for over a month. Their desperation evident in the words they typed. I count myself lucky that by the end of the third week, I have started feeling normal again. Able to function normally at work and sleep at night. I do not feel that dread in the pit of my stomach. Still, I feel like people should know this is a possibility.

I am not saying to avoid going to the doctor or receiving treatment. What I am saying is to talk with your doctor about your anxiety disorders. Don’t be ashamed. Tell them what your concerns are about undertaking certain treatments if you have had a reaction in the past. And most of all, do not feel alone because you are not.      

We have all had those moments of anxiety or doubt in what we have done or have not done. Did I lock the door? Did I turn off the coffee pot? Did I shut the door? Is a tsunami going to make landfall for the first time since the dawn of time in my area that isn’t even near a body of water? You know the days I’m talking about. Well, I used to have a lot more of these days than not. If I am being honest- and you don’t have to lie to have friends- it was every day that ended in “Y”. Then, I started to learn little life hacks to help me manage the OCD that made me go back to the house twice, check the door three times, and then make one more trip back home because I forgot to check the coffee pot and then check the door three more times just in case.

Video It

I don’t have to do this as much as I used to, but one helpful little ditty my therapist gave me was to film myself leaving the house. Even if the day did not give the impression I was going to need to do this, I did this for a few months anytime I left the house. I walked from room to room, smartphone in hand, talking the whole way. “Light off, coffee pot off, door locked, door latched…” Then, when I got in the car I replayed it for myself. No more trips to check, recheck, and check one more time. I even checked the rooms I knew I had never set foot in. Every. Square. Inch.

APPS!

Sometimes it isn’t until we lay our pretty little heads down that anxiety crashes down on us. “I really should buy life insurance”, “I probably shouldn’t have told Karen she lost weight, now she thinks I think she’s fat”, “Gah, remember that one time in 1st grade you called Bobby a doo doo brain? I bet he has never forgiven me” … I have a lot of nights like this. I call it having a mind busy with nothing because honestly, that’s what it is. Sure, some of it I important but let’s face it: a lot of it isn’t worth losing sleep over. Nonetheless, these thoughts creep in and once they start, it doesn’t take long before the downward spiral begins. When I have one of these nights, I like to pull up an app on my phone called “End Anxiety”. You can listen for free if you don’t mind listening to the 10-minute opening spill or pay $2.99 for the premium app. I pay $2.99. Anyway, this app takes you through a 30-minute exercise of breathing. Very much like guided imagery, you imagine, you breathe, and you relax. I use it to sleep despite there being a different app for that, it is just my preference.

Love Your Body

While we are talking about sleep, let’s talk about body love. Not that kind of body love! I mean loving your body enough to take a deep breath and relax when it’s time to let the sandman visit. If you have any kind of anxiety or stress in your life, you know that it is so much more than mental. It can be physically exerting and painful. When I lay down at night to go to sleep, I pay attention to my body. Are my hands clenched into fists? Are my legs squeezing together? What about my back? Shoulders? Even face. I take a minute to really let a cleansing breath wash over me and untangle my knots. Something just this simple has made a huge difference in the way my body feels when I wake up in the morning.

Write It Out

All of you are shocked by this. But sometimes taking a second to just jot down what is running through your mind is an effective was to at least get it on the outside, and that can be powerful. Keep it, junk it, burn it. Do whatever you need to do to make it go away because let’s face it, sometimes just telling yourself you will come back to those thoughts later isn’t enough to make them stop. I have the “never read again” journal. That’s where I put the darkness. All of those thoughts I never want to revisit go in there, mainly out of fear that if I get rid of them they’ll only come back. BUT! Do what you need to do, I think I have mentioned that slight but of OCD I have that contributes to this thought.

I know this list is short, but I hope someone out there I the blogosphere gets some relief from this. It isn’t a replacement for therapy, but part of healing is taking the little steps that make a big difference. No matter what you do, do it with love. Love yourself more than anyone else ever could and do what you need to do to be your best. What are some of your helpful tips for unwinding or alleviating those pesky thoughts and doubts?

I used to be afraid all of the time. I was afraid of being afraid. I was afraid of not being in control of events and thus lost control of my body. My brain told my body everything was a threat. People, places, places with people. I went from being an outgoing, extraverted, social butterfly to a recluse. I never wanted to venture too far away from home or run the risk of interacting with people I didn’t know. My fear became my safety. I was so safe, I was slowly killing myself.

Then, I began my journey. The first big step outside of myself was allowing someone to see me as I was. Clinically speaking that would be diagnosed as: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Words. Diagnoses. Labels. Call them what you will, I call them little bits of who I am, but they are not me. Now, my therapist when we began our journey together never said “This is what you are”, but instead, “This is what I see”.

For me, what she saw that day gave me at least a little power. I find so many arguments surrounding the stigma of mental illness. There are entire theories in psychology dedicated to not “labeling” someone. I see it as a badge of courage, a symbol of control. It took me two years, once a week in an office to gain my power back one small piece at a time. One day I realized part of that power is realizing that I am in control, not my illness.

Years, a lifetime, passed and my illness controlled me. A fear seeping into me so deeply I could not breathe. The thoughts racing so fast, nothing else had room in my brain. It was easy to give in, sink back, let the illness take the wheel of all that was hard and just disassociate myself. It took a lot of hard looks in the mirror before it hit me that I didn’t want to be that person anymore. I wanted more out of life. I wanted a life worth living, and fear is no way to accomplish that.

Every day is hard. Some are worse than others. Yet, in the hardest moments I find the greatest power. When I feel that panic begin to seep in and I am able to stand and say “NO!” I am powerful. When a thought makes its way into my brain and begins to run through over and over and I am able to think, “Not right now,” I am strong. Realizing what it is that stands before us is the key to overcoming our obstacles.